Daniel, the Jewish Exile and Antiochus Epiphanes

This page is an excerpt from
Cycles of Salvation History

by Ulrich Utiger

Page 7

Peter Paul Rubens: Daniel in the lions den
Peter Paul Rubens: Daniel in the lions den

Page description
Prophet Daniel about the Babylonian exile of the Jews, their return and persecutions by Antiochus Epiphanes.

Contents of this page
The prophecy of the seventy years of exile
The prophecy of the seventy weeks
The four phases of the seventy weeks
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Short summary of the previous pages
The life cycle of the angels and man is composed of four phases: peace, sin, judgment and return to peace. The same phases are discovered in The Account of the Flood, The Ancestors of Israel as well as in From the Exodus to the Babylonian Exile. On the following pages, it is shown that the whole salvation history is composed of eras with four cycles, which in turn are composed of four phases (see Summary of Salvation History). On this page, the fourth cycle of the era of the Israelite people, that is, the persecutions of Antiochus Epiphanes, is presented.

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Judas Maccabeus

The prophecy of the seventy years of exile

The Persians, under whom the Jews were permitted to return from the Babylonian exile, were conquered by the Greeks, who also occupied Judah. The Greeks allowed the Jews their religious liberty, with the result that they offered no resistance to the occupation. This happened with other occupiers several times in a similar manner, which is only known from non-biblical sources, for the historical books of the Old Testament do not refer to any event that happened between the return from the Babylonian exile and the events described by the books of the Maccabees. How then can the continuation of the cycles of salvation history be shown?

This apparently “forgotten” history constitutes a phase of transition of relative peace for the Jewish people, which the book of Daniel refers to in a prophetic account. It was in the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim, in 607 BC, when Nebuchadnezzar occupied Jerusalem and Daniel was taken to Babylon together with some other children to be at the court of the king (Dan 1:1-21), under whom Daniel rapidly became the most important royal adviser (Dan 2). Later, under the mysterious king Darius the Mede, Daniel one day ardently prayed in order to appease God’s anger against his people and to ask for an explanation of the seventy years of exile predicted by Jeremiah (Jer 25:11-12; Dan 9:1-19). He perhaps guessed that the seventy years would not be as long as they appeared. In reply to his prayer, God sent the angel Gabriel, who gave him a cryptic explanation concerning seventy weeks:

Seventy weeks are decreed
for your people and your holy city,
for putting an end to transgression,
for placing the seals on sin,
for expiating crime,
for introducing everlasting integrity,
for setting the seal on vision and on prophecy,
for anointing the Holy of Holies.
Know this, then, and understand:
from the time the word ‘return and rebuild Jerusalem’ went out
to the coming of an anointed Prince, seven weeks.
And sixty-two weeks with squares and ramparts restored and rebuild,
but in a time of trouble.
And after the sixty-two weeks
an anointed one will be cut off, there will not be for him [...],
the city and the sanctuary will be destroyed
by a prince who will come.
His end will come in catastrophe
and, until the end, there will be war
and all the devastation decreed.
He will make a firm covenant with many
for the space of a week.
And for the space of one half-week
he will put a stop to sacrifice and oblation,
and on the wing of the temple will be the disastrous abomination
until the end, until the doom assigned to the devastator
(Dan 9:24-27).

We have to suppose that the first seven weeks relate to the Babylonian exile announced by Jeremiah (Jer 25:1-13), since Daniel is praying for an answer about the duration of the exile. This is why “from the time the word ‘return and rebuild Jerusalem’ went out to the coming of an anointed Prince, seven weeks” concerns the prophecy in the sense of Jeremiah 29:10, according to which the Jews will only return from Babylon and rebuild Jerusalem after seventy years. “The word” consequently has nothing to do with the permission of the Persian king Cyrus the Great to let the Jews return to their country and rebuild it (Ezr 1), otherwise there would be no connection with Jeremiah’s prophecy and Daniel’s prayer would not be answered. This interpretation is also confirmed by the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in AD 70, which is also a fulfillment of the seventy weeks to be counted from Jesus’ announcement (Mt 23:33-24:2), although the first seven weeks have no sense within this context, as we shall see.

Another commonly held view is that “the word” refers to the decree of Artaxerxes I in 445 BC (Neh 2). The seven and sixty-two year-weeks would then lead to the arrival of Jesus in Jerusalem and his Passion in AD 32 by counting 360 days for one year. However, one does not know the exact day of this decree. And the preferred date for the crucifixion is AD 30 or 33 (see appendix D: Crucifixion date).

Independently of this, the holders of this interpretation translate Daniel 9:25 with “the coming of the anointed Prince”, which is not correct because “Prince” has no definite article in the original Hebrew text. This means that it is “an anointed Prince” among others. So this cannot be Christ, to whom Daniel 9:24 refers with “...for anointing the Holy of Holies”. In addition, the seven weeks and the sixty-two weeks have to be separated because of the punctuation in the original text. So there are only seven and not sixty-nine weeks between “the word” and “an anointed Prince”, who is Cyrus fulfilling Jeremiah’s prophecy. This interpretation is confirmed by Isaiah: “I am he who says of Cyrus ‘my shepherd’. He will fulfill my whole purpose, saying of Jerusalem ‘let her be rebuilt’ and of the temple ‘let your foundation be laid’. Thus says the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus...” (Isa 44:28-45:1). Another “anointed one” (Dan 9:26) is the high priest Onias, as we shall see.

It is therefore necessary to calculate the duration of the exile from Jeremiah’s announcement made before the exile and not from the moment when the exile effectively began: Jeremiah announced the exile in the fourth year of Jehoiakim and the first year of Nebuchadnezzar (Jer 25:1), that is to say, in 606 BC. The first important deportation by Nebuchadnezzar took place in 597 BC.[46] This is why the exile had to end effectively about nine years earlier than Daniel believed, which certainly consoled him since he asked God to appease his anger.

The first returns of the Jews from Babylon took place in the first year of the reign of Cyrus over the Babylonian empire, which corresponds to the year 538 BC (Ezr 1:1). This makes a difference of about 68 years (606 – 538 = 68). To this number, it is still necessary to add the time that passed until the entire return of the Jews and the beginning of the construction of the second temple, because the seventy years of the exile are represented by the seven weeks. Then follow the sixty-two weeks, which shall be the time of reconstruction of Jerusalem, so it is necessary to calculate the time of the seven weeks until the beginning of this reconstruction. However, these works only took place two years after the return (Ezr 3:8). The time of the exile, calculated from the prediction of Jeremiah up to the reconstruction of Jerusalem and the temple, must therefore have lasted nearly seventy years.

The prophecy of the seventy weeks

Let us now analyze the prophecy of the seventy weeks and suppose that they do not refer to one single event but to several episodes in history. We therefore try to apply again the principles of multi-reference already discovered with Genesis. Thus we have to take into account that the days of the seventy weeks do not represent constant but variable values according to the context to which they are applied. We are going to see that the seven (exile), sixty-two (reconstruction), and one weeks (persecution) effectively express a theoretical proportion that is valid for different historical contexts, which prefigure an event that will only arrive in the end times with the Antichrist.

This is why these theoretical values only apply in an approximate manner to historical dates (see here). This contrasts with Jeremiah’s prophecy, which applies to nothing other than the Babylonian exile and thereby exactly corresponds to the historical length of seventy years. Daniel’s prophecy of the seventy weeks, however, refers to different historical contexts. It also applies to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, predicted by Jesus (Mt 23:33-24:2), which is why the correspondence to history in this context is approximate as well, although still a bit more exact (see here). So each context, as long as it is a prefiguration to the end event, is only realized approximately.

By replacing one day by one year, one week lasts seven years. Consequently, the seven weeks of the exile theoretically last forty-nine years (7 × 7 = 49), which is approximate compared with the real seventy years. The sixty-two weeks from the reconstruction to the persecution week last 434 years (62 × 7 = 434). In fact, 369 years passed from the first return of the Jews in 538 BC to the beginning of the persecutions by the Greek king Antiochus Epiphanes in 169 BC. So within this historical context, the prophecy only approximately fits to reality (49 instead of 70 years for the exile and 434 instead of 369 years for the reconstruction). But this is precisely what has to be the case because Antiochus only prefigures the end-time Antichrist. The prophecy would effectively be doubtful – in the sense of being written after the events as some theologians claim – if it was thoroughly exact.

Things are nevertheless more precise with the last week, which constitutes a period of intense tribulations, wars, and persecutions (Dan 9:26-27). According to 1 Maccabees 1:20, the persecutions began in 169 BC during the first campaign of Antiochus against Egypt, preceded by the murder of the high priest Onias (2 Mac 3:1; 4:34) according to “and after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off...” (Dan 9:26). Antiochus set up “the disastrous abomination” (1 Mac 1:54; Dan 9:27; Mt 24:15), an altar of the pagan religion, in December 167 BC on the altar of the holocausts inside the temple, and died in October 164, after which the persecutions ceased, although the war still continued until 163/2 BC. The final week therefore effectively lasted almost seven years and the disastrous abomination was constructed, according to the prediction of Daniel 9:27, almost in the middle of the seven-year period. Thus the resemblance of the proportions 70 : 369 : 6 of real history with the theoretical proportions 49 : 434 : 7 of the seventy weeks is clearly recognizable.[47]

The four phases of the seventy weeks

The first seven weeks refer to the punishment phase of the third cycle, the Babylonian exile. The sixty-two weeks of the reconstruction of Jerusalem refer to the following revival phase of the same cycle and especially to the beginning phase of the fourth cycle. According to the short introduction of Daniel 9:24, which predicts that the seventy weeks must end in order to expiate a sin, one can easily figure out that the last week refers to a new phase of sin and judgment before the return to peace, which culminated with the arrival of “the Holy of Holies”:

Seventy weeks are decreed
for your people and your holy city,
for putting an end to transgression,
for placing the seals on sin,
for expiating crime,
for introducing everlasting integrity,
for setting the seal on vision and on prophecy,
for anointing the Holy of Holies
(Dan 9:24).

This final week is realized by the persecutions of Antiochus Epiphanes. The books of the Maccabees often attribute the cause of these persecutions to a new apostasy committed by the Jews (1 Mac 1:64; 2:49; 3:8; 2 Mac 5:17-20; 7:38), which began before the beginning of the last week. It is written there, for example, that “in those days went there out of Israel wicked men, who persuaded many, saying: ‘Let us go and make a covenant with the heathen that are round about us’ [...] They built a place of exercise at Jerusalem according to the customs of the heathen, and made themselves uncircumcised, and forsook the holy covenant, and joined themselves to the heathen” (1 Mac 1:11-15). Even Jason, the high priest, “labored underhand” (2 Mac 4:7) by introducing Hellenism, which spread rapidly in Israel “through the exceeding perversity of Jason, that ungodly wretch, and no high priest” (2 Mac 4:13). Many Jews therefore succumbed to the customs of Hellenism, which had already conquered all the oriental countries in the wake of Greek imperialism. The matter in hand is therefore really an apostasy, like those that previously caused the occupation by the Assyrians and the Babylonian exile.

Yet the persecutions of Antiochus were so cruel that they cannot be interpreted just as a judgment: Jason attempted to seize power, but was failed by his own Jewish compatriots. Antiochus Epiphanes qualified this as a rebellion and suppressed it savagely (2 Mac 5:5-14). This was the beginning of the persecutions, whose main objective was not the oppression of a nearly non-existent rebellion but a pretext for the extermination of the Jewish religion (2 Mac 5:15-7:41).

These persecutions also belong to the phase of sin, for the martyrdom of the seven brothers and their mother, and of Eleazar, who persevered in their faith until death (2 Mac 6:18-7:41), already announces what happened after Jesus Christ: from then on, the phase of sin is no longer focused on the abandonment of the faith but on the persecutors of those who persist in the faith. It is also for this reason that the judgment no longer concerns the people of God but the persecutors who want to divert them away from their faith. Therefore, Antiochus incurred a severe judgment, since he tried to make the Jews abandon their beliefs (1 Mac 1:10; 6:8-13; 2 Mac 9).

The phase of sin therefore essentially began with the last week, in 169 BC, and ended in the middle of the week at the end of 167 BC, when Antiochus, at the height of his madness, installed the pagan altar in the temple. The phase of judgment realized with Mattathias and then his son Judas Maccabeus, who succeeded in confronting their oppressors (1 Mac 2-7) also nearly from the middle of the week.[48] Antiochus died and his successor again granted religious liberty to the Jews in 163/2 BC (1 Mac 6). This is the end of the seventy weeks and the beginning of the revival phase, which continues into the first phase of the following cycle inaugurating a new era by the arrival of Jesus Christ.

This coming of the Messiah at the end of the seventy weeks is referred to with “Seventy weeks are decreed [...] for expiating crime and introducing everlasting integrity [...] for anointing the Holy of Holies” (Dan 9:24). However, this does not mean that the Messiah shall arrive immediately at the end of the seventy weeks: if we postulate that the prophecy “thinks” in units of phases, the time after the seventy weeks must be considered a coherent period of relative peace for Israel because it constitutes the beginning phase of the next cycle. This is why the only thing we can retrieve from Daniel’s prophecy is that the Messiah must arrive during this phase of peace of undetermined length after the seventy weeks. This is similar to saying: “Tomorrow my sister will visit me.” Therefore, the visit must not necessarily take place at midnight but can happen at any time during the next day. In a similar way, it is impossible to determine through the Scriptures the exact date of the arrival of the “the Holy of Holies” during the next phase. This goes along with our ignorance about the date of Jesus’ glorious return (Mt 24:36).

The only thing we know is that the first coming of the Messiah must happen within a relatively short period after the seventy weeks. A short period means that it has to be shorter than the 7 × 70 = 490 years of the seventy weeks, which is the case for the approximate 160 years between the end of the seventy weeks and the birth of Jesus Christ. This is not very exact but exact enough to conclude that modern Jews still awaiting their Messiah after more than 2000 years are in the wrong...